May 4, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) and teammates console point guard Kyle Lowry (7) after coming up short on the final play of the game against the Brooklyn Nets in game seven of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. The Nets beat the Raptors 104-103. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Raptors: Making Sense Of Playoff Exit

Should it have been any surprise that the outcome of Game 7 hung in the balance until the final buzzer sounded?

Probably not.

Especially considering that, with the exception of Game 6, each game in the first-round series between the Toronto Raptors and the Brooklyn Nets required the bulk of the 48 minutes allotted to determine the winner.

Yet in the deciding game on Sunday at the Air Canada Centre, the end result seemed predictable by early in the third quarter, if not by halftime when the Raptors trailed 61-53.

Apr 22, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Johnson (7) gets by Toronto Raptors forward Landry Fields (2) in game two during the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Brooklyn 100-95. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

In retrospect, though, the defining moment had happened long before then. It was the 44-point fourth quarter by the Nets in Game 5 — the 12-minute stretch that almost carried them to victory, but certainly set the tone for their approach to the remainder of the series. From that moment on, the team that had designs on facing the Raptors looked more confident, more assertive, and more businesslike.

Even as Paul Pierce became less of a factor, and while Kevin Garnett‘s minutes were being heavily managed, Joe Johnson‘s jump shot caught fire and may very well have been the deciding factor in the series.

NETS TAKE COMMAND

The Raptors really had no answers for what the Nets threw at them in Game 6 and for much of Game 7.

Although the Raptors built up a 28-26 advantage after the first quarter on Sunday, it didn’t really seem like they had regained any control or that they were going to be in a position to dictate the tempo of the game. Whether it was because of nervousness, inexperience, or both, the raptors struggled at the defensive end and, overall, with their execution and decision-making for the bulk of the second and third frames.

Then, in the fourth quarter, any kind of predictability to the final result was turned on its side.

Suddenly there they were — Kyle Lowry and Co. battling back to make a game of it.

There was Terrence Ross, driving past Johnson for a layup to cut the deficit to 104-103 with eight seconds remaining, followed by his stealing of the inbounds pass (in the Raptors end after a timeout) to set up the final chance.

May 4, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward Patrick Patterson (54) and guard Terrence Ross (31) react after a foul call near the end of game seven of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre. Brooklyn defeated Toronto 104-103. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

That the Raptors were even in a position to win the game seemed to beat the odds, which is something that can also be said in general for their journey through the 2013-14 season.

DOWN AND OUT

In the third quarter of Game 7, I had all but written off their chances of winning. This after the amount of optimism I expressed prior to the game. I was already processing the loss in my mind, figuring out ways to explain it and to find a way for the fan in me to cope with it. The letdown was going to be a gradual one that could work itself out by the time the result was official.

Clearly, the Raptors had other plans. The 83-73 deficit to start the fourth quarter was not insurmountable to them, though it may have seemed so to me. The Raptors fought back and played with the kind of grit and determination that defined their entire season. The same grit and determination they used to win 48 games and clinch the Atlantic Division.

Sitting down was not an option for me as the Raptors emerged from the huddle with six seconds left to execute the final play. I was simply too nervous, as I’m sure many others were as well.

DEFINING MOMENT

No need to explain what happened next.

Fans were either going to be dancing on the ceiling or falling to the ground — which is where Lowry found himself after his shot in the lane was blocked by none other than Paul Pierce to preserve the win.

May 4, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) consoles point guard Kyle Lowry (7) after coming up short on the final play of the game against the Brooklyn Nets in game seven of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. The Nets beat the Raptors 104-103. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

That loss stings, to say the least, and will go down as one of the most epic defeats in franchise history. Another one of those “so-close” moments that will be pondered for years to come.

So the curtain closes on the performance that was the Raptors’ 2013-14 season, one that featured more stars, more twists and turns, and a greater story arc than I could have imagined at the outset. Within the span of the same season, they transformed from a lottery-bound team to a playoff contender, then nearly stole a round from the Nets.

The Raptors were full of surprises from training camp to Game 7, but the secret is out on what they are capable of doing.

Still, I am left wondering what to expect from the sequel when the Raptors take to the stage again next season.

Tags: 2014 NBA Playoffs Toronto Raptors

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